“8He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? “
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.”
“ 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
During my three week absence from DiscipleChurch, I was able to rest and hopefully recharge and read, and among the books was one recommended by Pope Francis: Mercy: the Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life, by Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany. It is a book to be read very slowly. I have found myself turning back and back to it again during times of contemplation early in the morning, and when I get home from work. This book has led me to other readings on the subject.
So…I am planning to preach a long series on mercy, taking it slowly, going at it indirectly, considering what scripture and Jesus say to us about these issues, not so much what Fox News or MSNBC say. As Cardinal Kasper writes, western culture is obsessed with issues of justice, and is critical of mercy as weakness. European and American Christians are much more concerned with justice than mercy, even within the church. Jesus’ teaching to “be merciful,” quoted above from the 6th chapter of Luke, seems so straight forward and simple. The beginning and ending challenge seems at first reaction merely to resolve to be merciful. But the issue is much more complex. If two or more people are in conflict, or have varying claims on us, in varying degrees of victimhood or power, to whom are we to be merciful and to whom just? Whenever we consider mercy, it seems we need to consider justice, as well. As we see from the passages from Micah and Matthew, the two are so often linked in scripture. When we ask what mercy requires of us, we also must ask what justice requires. Protection of the victim and forgiveness for the wrongdoer are so often at issue for us. Is justice is a form of mercy for the victim? And is justice, in the guise of accountability and demand for reform, a kind of mercy for the wrongdoer as well?
Following Micah, how do we “do” justice and at the same time “love” mercy? Is God through Micah telling us that justice is a way of acting, while mercy is only a way of feeling or attitude? But why then does Jesus tell us to “be” merciful, meaning to act in merciful way? Can we truly “love” mercy without acting mercifully?
Is it possible to be just and merciful at the same time? How? I know we must respond situation by situation, but are there any guidelines?
Are we instead called to balance justice and mercy? Okay, great! How?
If we must choose one, which do we choose?
Consider: are you the kind of person who automatically considers justice first, or considers mercy first? For instance, when you consider the undocumented children who have recently come into the United States from Central America, fleeing poverty and violence, is your first vision to see then as lawbreakers and threats to the laws and order of this country, or as vulnerable, needy children in need of sanctuary? Or when you hear of a clergyperson found responsible for sexual misconduct with a member of his church, do you think first of justice and protection for the victim, or forgiveness and hope and faith in real transformation for the clergyperson?
Which would be worse, a city without justice, or a city without mercy? A city erring too much on the side of justice or too much on the side of mercy? A church that is too much into God’s teachings or too much into God’s mercy? A church that demands too much repentance for forgiveness and inclusion? Or one that forgives and includes without any repentance required? Hard grace or cheap grace?
Is justice what we must do day to day, to maintain order and to provide a predictable and stable system that citizens can rely upon as fair and even handed? While mercy is something we can only do when it does not undermine justice too much? Is justice going the first mile while mercy is going the second? This, paraphrasing Cardinal Kasper, is the prevailing view in the West.
What is the point of justice? Put another way, where does justice get us? Where does mercy get us?
And, as was so often the issue raised by Jesus, to whom are we to be just, and to whom are we to be merciful?
And, for us THE most important issue: how are the justice of God and the mercy of God related?
Hope to see you Sunday. We’ll get started.